Whether conceived to put a scare into the bankers who controlled Dodge Brothers or as a hedge for Walter Chrysler in case he couldn't acquire coveted Dodge, the 1929-1933 DeSotos helped lay claim to an empire.
It's tempting to accuse Walter P. Chrysler of "Sloanism" in creating DeSoto. It was legendary General Motors President Alfred P. Sloan's principle of a "car for every purse and purpose," the Chevrolet-to-Cadillac hierarchy, that helped GM become the world's largest, most successful auto company. Chrysler conceived DeSoto for his own nameplate "ladder."
Pre-viewed for dealers on July 7, 1928 and introduced to the public on August 4, this midpriced six-cylinder car was intended to plug the gap between the fledgling low-price four-cylinder Plymouth and Walter's premium namesake Chryslers. Despite some last-minute intramural competition, DeSoto got off to a strong start, only to suffer along with the rest of the U.S. auto industry once the Depression set in.
The DeSoto name was not chosen by accident. America in the late Twenties had taken a fancy to many things Spanish -- architecture, artists like Pablo Picasso, and "Latin lover" film stars, to name three -- so invoking the name and visage of Hernando de Soto, the explorer who discovered the Mississippi River, was in keeping with the national mood.
Extending the theme were Spanish or simply Spanish-sounding model names: Roadster Español (with rumble seat), Cupe Business (ditto), Faeton (for the touring car), a five-passenger four-door Sedan (a name that works in most any language), and Coche (five-place two-door sedan). There were also a Cupe and Sedan tagged "de lujo" -- deluxe.
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